Tags: patterns and widgets
Ontology is Overrated: Categories, Links, and Tags by Clay Shirky is a great article that describes the power of tagging, but it is not critical enough, nor does it separate blatant individualistic tagging from a more controlled universe of folksonomy. Thomas Vander Wal was a guest contributore on Ok-Cancel with an article of his own, Tagging for Fun and Finding.
Is all this lauding of tagging going a bit too far? It all feels short-sighted to me. Fun! but short-sighted.
I would be interested in what others think about all this lauding of Tags, or unstructured metadata? Now, I like the whole idea that I can “tag” things (BTW, the OK-Cancel comic is brilliant) so that *I* can refind things later. But what gets me is the lack of frame of reference, or stable POV.
More than any other group we, user experience professionals, should understand where tagging fails to increase findability:
Usability (w/ or w/o) Engineering
I may use one or none of the above to label my blog articles, or come up w/ something completely new. There is no shared cultural value for querying the system.
I know … The system will fall into place through organic use, right? Well it hasn’t yet, as I know so far that tagging doesn’t really speak well to the masses, outside of a core select few. Delicious is interesting as is flickr, but when I try to use it, I feel totally overwhelmed with way more than I wanted, and not enough of what I did want.
Now, that being said, like Clay I do agree that the current systems of hierarchy and file systems don’t make sense, but why does having a controlled vocabulary have to mean that it is a hierarchical taxonomy like the Yahoo example he gives. Unlike library catalog systems which tend to want to put an object in one and only one space, the web DOES afford us a non-linear and multiplicity of locations and that’s good, but doesn’t equal the need for uncontrolled vocabularies.
If we see any trend is that we need to have controlled vocabularies that can learn and adjust over time. But unintelligent tagging systems, IMHO, do not increase findability of things that I haven’t found already, just re-findability of those items that I’ve already found.
What is much better is intelligences that create relevancy based on context of use, referencing, and linking. This can be informed by individual tagging, but can’t replace it, nor can indivdiual tagging succeed long term on its own. Otherwise we will end up just where we are today. A big web w/ no real frame of reference.